It’s time to dust off those cleats, Mario and co. return to the pitch for an other-worldly game of footie! Go it alone or bring along a friend as you brutally tackle Toad into the wall, making room to score that winning goal.

Does Mario Strikers: Battle League Football bring the series back to World Cup prestige, or is it as useless as that one referee you’ve always hated? Find out more in our review, after the break!

Mario Strikers: Battle League Football
Nintendo Switch
Developed by Next Level Games
Published by Nintendo
Released: 10th June 2022

Review copy provided by Nintendo UK

It’s been a while since we last received a Mario Strikers game, fifteen years in fact, so it was exciting to see Next Level Games finally come back to the field. As with previous entries, Battle League revolves around five vs. five football matches consisting of characters from the Mario series. Considering this is set in the Mario universe, it’s safe to assume that these aren’t your average football outings… for one, the entire stadium is in outer space!

Similar to football in real life, the aim of the game is to score the most goals by the time the game ends; I shouldn’t have to tell you that kicking the ball into the goal is how you score those shiny points. Though it may seem there are a lot of controls to remember, they become pretty easy to get the hang of, plus there’s a pretty decent training mode to help you along the way, I’d definitely recommend checking this out upon launching the title.

You’ll use the ABXY buttons to shoot (if you’re near the goal), pass, use your items or lob the ball/tackle another player respectively… some buttons can be held down for a charged version of that move. Pressing L or ZL while not in possession of the ball will manually change who you’re controlling. You can also use ZR to dash (watch your stamina) or R to dodge too. The tutorial doesn’t specifically mention this, but you may find it easier to use the right stick or shake the controller to perform a dodge. Try out each one to find your preferred method to prevent getting a mouth full of boot!

Once you’ve nailed down the basics, a few advanced manoeuvres are at your disposal. If you hold down ZL while pressing Y or B, for example, you’ll be able to control where the ball goes rather than straight to the nearest player. In addition to this, if you time button presses or charges well, you may perform a more powerful version of that move. My favourite trick, which is also a new addition to the series, is the Team Tackle. It may sound unsportsmanlike to attack your fellow team, but what if I told you that doing so at an opportune moment will cause that teammate to ram right into the opposition; hilarious and effective!

On the subject of tackling, unlike regular footie, you can tackle anyone no matter the occasion, even right into the electrified fence, shocking! This means that tackling a player without the ball won’t result in a penalty, but it will throw an item onto the field that only the victim team can pick up.

Like in other Mario Striker entries, items can be collected and used to try and level out the playing field. A mushroom will give you a boost in speed, banana skins can be used to slip players up (yourself included), Bob-Ombs make things go boom, green and red shells are used as projectiles (with red shells homing in on another player), and the star grants the player temporary invincibility. You can hold up to two at a time, just don’t be like me and forget to use them, it gets very chaotic on the pitch.

A glowing orb will appear during play from time to time, you’ll want to be the first one to collect this to charge up your team for a devastating move, the Hyper Strike. After you’re charged up, hold down A to initiate the Hyper Strike, a devastating move that can score your two points if landed successfully. A gauge will appear, tasking you to time two presses of the A button on the moving needle, so try to aim for the blue or orange areas. Once you’ve done this, a special animation dedicated to that character will play to show off their finesse as they shoot the ball straight to the goal; has anyone ever seen the movie Shaolin Soccer?

If you landed both needles in the blue area, your strike is guaranteed to go through the goalie, the orange areas mean it’s likely and the black areas significantly decrease this chance. Even if you don’t succeed straight away, it’s still possible to rebound the ball in as the goalie, as well as any players in the way, are temporarily stunned. Though the move is pretty awesome, do remember that you can be tackled while charging it up, wasting your chance to perform the Hyper Strike. Additionally, the gauge’s size will depend on that character’s stats.

As far as characters go, sidekicks are a thing of the past. Any of the roster can be picked to be the captain or other player, Boom Boom will always take the role of goalie however. Though this is nice not being limited to specific character types, it is disappointing that the game only ships with ten characters overall, all of them are pretty much the standard Mario characters you see in the sports series nowadays. Though it’s been confirmed more characters will get added in the future, it would’ve been nice to have a larger representation from the long-running Mario franchise from the get-go, it has been going for 37 years after all. Give us the likes of Boo, Dry Bones or even more obscure characters such as momma penguin from Super Mario 64… heck, let’s even put Plessie in there!

One thing I found pretty neat is how each of the characters now has stats that affect how they play. They fall under five categories. Strength affects how powerful their tackles are against others; a low-strength character, for example, may struggle to effectively tackle a higher-strength one. Speed affects how fast they can run. Shooting determines the strength and speed of their shots. Passing can change the speed of passes as well as how far they can pass. Finally, Technique determines the accuracy of shots, how easy it is to perform advanced techniques, and how large the Hyper Strike gauges are. 

What I like about this is how it makes you think about the way you build your team, you’ve got to keep a good balance to play effectively. If you like a specific character but not too fond of their stats, you can use coins to unlock different pieces of gear. Each one will raise a character’s stat while sacrificing another. It may be a good way to better cater a character to you, but I felt it was a little light on the range of gear available. In addition to this, it does seem the gear is displayed during matches which is a shame… I really like Yoshi’s futuristic-looking Turbo Helmet.

As well as characters, you’ll also be able to pick which stadiums to play on… yes, that’s stadiums, the plural form! One half of the pitch will use the home team’s decision, the other the away teams’. It’s actually quite cool seeing two different stadiums side by side, it’s just a shame that Battle League only comes with five. In addition to this, don’t expect any zany gimmicks like in Mario Strikers Charged. I honestly would’ve loved the option for stadium gimmicks, imagine ghosts chasing the opposition in Spooky Mansion or puddles of magma in Lava Castle. In my defence, when it comes to Mario games, I find the zanier the better!

Before starting a match, you’ll get an option to use either Auto or Manual character switching. Auto will automatically switch to the recommended character, this is usually either the one with the ball or the one nearest to it if up for grabs. Manual on the other hand puts the ball of character switching in your court… sorry, wrong sport. Deciding on which to choose depends solely on how you wish to play. If you’re relatively new to the game or are just concentrating on the ball then Auto is for you. I’d only recommend Manual for those who are confident in their abilities and wish to make the most of their entire team. Either way, it’s nice that there’s an option for this.

Now that you’ve got a lowdown of how you play the game, I’m sure you’re just busting to put all these skills to the test. Luckily there are several modes where you can do just that. If you just want to get into a match straight away, then Quick Battle is the mode for you, it’s even first on the list for full-on time efficiency. The mode can be played offline, locally, or online with other players or against CPUs. You can change settings such as the match length, CPU skill, and time of day, items and Hyper Strikes can also be enabled or disabled.

Cup Battles are for those who rather go it alone (or with friends) in various tournaments against the CPU. Win three matches in a row and you win yourself a nice trophy and a generous amount of coins. Don’t worry if you lose a match, doing so will land you in the losers bracket, offering a second chance to win the cup. Further losses will require you to pay coins to continue or resign however.

The main star of the show can be found in the Strikers Club. This ‘social’ mode allows players to either join or create their very own club to compete to be the best team. Up to twenty people can be part of a club at once. Creating one allows you to customise a bunch of different settings such as your team’s colours and outfits, and which field is designated as the club’s home.

Week-long seasons are held about every other week, this is when you’ll want to participate in matches as leading teams will gain more tokens, a special currency used to purchase more customisations for your field such as different pitch marking or fence posts. You can also get tokens from off-season matches but not to the same extent. What’s quite cool is that each half of the pitch will use the location chosen by that team. It’s a little disappointing however that, as far as I am aware, that’s the only use for tokens. It would’ve been nice if there were extra bits they could be used for. According to the game guide, some seasons may include special rules, I am currently unaware of what these could be.

It’s pretty cool that in offline multiplayer, you are able to play with seven other people, each one filling a member on each team (other than the goalie, he knows what he is doing). Unfortunately, you can’t quite do this in the online modes. In this situation only up to four consoles can connect to each other, meaning that typically, online can only be played with up to three other people. There is a little workaround however as each online mode allows you to bring an additional player from the same console. It’s still a shame that there is this restriction in place. I am happy however that I found very few issues while playing online.

One thing I did want to touch upon is the player animations that add so much character to the game. There are different animations for winning the game, performing Hyper Strikes and even scoring a goal… sometimes you’ll even see one showcasing the anger of the opposing character. My favourite is probably when a team captained by Yoshi wins a match, he’s seen running down the pitch as attendees throw fruit for him to gobble up; so cute! The only thing which was a bit of a shame is that the scene introducing each match is pretty much the same, nothing seems to really change based on who is captaining that team.

Mario Strikers is back and, for the most part, it has returned in its full glory. Battle League Football is a fantastic Mario Sports game that’s accessible for beginners while also offering some sweet techniques for Striker veterans. As usual, it’s football gone mad, full of fun and chaotic gameplay that’ll have you shouting at the telly. If it weren’t for its sparse character and stadium roster, I would definitely recommend picking Mario Strikers: Battle League Football up… it’s still worth considering, though maybe wait until after Nintendo launches a few of those upcoming free updates.

Final Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is available now exclusively for Nintendo Switch.

Leon Fletcher

I am a huge Nintendo fan, hence why NintyBuzz exists. I especially love all things Zelda and Metroid. NintyBuzz was started by me back in the Summer of 2014, it started out mainly as a hobby, though the site has gradually grown, and I hope it grows for many years to come!